CBS eyes high Super Bowl ratings despite lack of names


Friday, January 23rd 2004, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


NEW YORK (AP) _ NFL stars Peyton Manning and Donovan McNabb will be watching the Super Bowl. CBS hopes all of their fans do the same.

With the premier television event of the year 10 days away, the network is banking on the Super Bowl's status as a quasi-national holiday to overcome any shortcomings there might be in the matchup between the New England Patriots and the Carolina Panthers.

At first glance, this Super Bowl doesn't seem ideal for television.

Neither team boasts an instantly recognizable star or a high-powered offense. Both Carolina quarterback Jake Delhomme and New England's Tom Brady are more effective than flashy, and the teams tend to win defensive struggles instead of high-scoring shootouts. Plus, Carolina and New England are _ in terms of the NFL _ close geographically.

It probably doesn't matter when it comes to the ratings for CBS.

``To a large extent the rating is quite bulletproof with the one caveat that you don't want a game that gets out of hand,'' Sean McManus, the president of CBS Sports, said Wednesday.

``Most people who get excited about the Super Bowl, who are the casual fan ... I think to those people it doesn't matter who the teams are.''

Every Super Bowl since 1991 has had a rating of at least 40.2, with 1996's game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Pittsburgh Steelers earning a 46.1. Last year 137.65 million viewers, the second-most in history for the NFL's championship game, watched Tampa Bay's 48-21 blowout win over Oakland on Fox.

``You're talking about almost half the country that makes it appointment TV,'' said Neal Pilson, the former president of CBS Sports and now a consultant. ``No matter the matchup, usually you start off with a 40 rating.''

But how far up _ or down _ that number goes is often determined by what happens on the field.

St. Louis' 23-16 win over Tennessee in 2000, which came down to the final play, had a 43.2 rating. In 1998, when Denver beat Green Bay 31-24, had a 44.5.

The only Super Bowl since 1971 to have a rating below 40 was in 1990, which had a 39.0 rating for San Francisco's 55-10 dismantling of Denver.

The rating is the percentage of all homes with TVs, whether or not they are in use. Each rating point represents a little more than 1 million TV homes.

And, with the two weeks of coverage and hype that precede this year's game, the public is sure to become familiar with previously anonymous players.

Brady is already relatively well known, even sitting next to first lady Laura Bush during President Bush's State of the Union address Tuesday night. But he isn't viewed in the same way as star quarterbacks like Manning, McNabb or Green Bay's Brett Favre.

Delhomme, on the other hand, is almost completely unknown. An out-of-nowhere starter whose Louisiana drawl is as unassuming as his play, he had thrown just 86 passes in six seasons with New Orleans before signing with the Panthers in the offseason.

But whether Brady, Delhomme or any other player becomes a household name by the time the game kicks off, CBS don't seem too concerned.

``Those used to be more important factors when the Super Bowl wasn't the huge national holiday that it's become,'' McManus said.

Whether viewers tune in because they love the Panthers or Patriots, the commercials or the halftime show or merely because they just love a good ol' party, and the Super Bowl seems as good an excuse as any to throw one, there's guaranteed to be a huge rating number come Monday.

``The rest of the world celebrates the World Cup,'' Pilson said, ``we celebrate the Super Bowl.''